Private, permissive, public?

How do you tell if a route is public, private or permissive? Are there signs? Are there barriers to stop you where you shouldn’t go?

As we head into Lockdown 2.0 we should be making the most of getting outside and exploring our local routes again for our mental and physical well being. As we explore we should make sure we know where we can and can’t go before we head out.


What are Public Rights of Way? Public rights of way are paths which the public have a legal protected right to use. They provide a healthy, safe and sustainable way to access the countryside and other local services. The public have the right to pass and repass along a Public Right of Way which can include: admiring the view, taking a photograph or resting as long as you do not stray from the line of the Right of Way or cause an obstruction. The public, landowners and local authorities have rights and responsibilities on Public Rights of Way, find out more about these in my previous blog here. Beyond Public Rights of Way you may also access land via your right to roam, this does not cover all land but only that which is designated as ‘open access land’. Access land includes mountains, moors, heaths and downs that are privately owned. It also includes common land registered with the local council and some land around the England Coast Path.You can use access land for walking, running, watching wildlife and climbing but many other activities are prohibited without the landowners permission. Public Rights of Way and access land is show on the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 maps as below:


Permissive routes are not Public Rights of Way, permissive routes are provided by the landowner and can be any status of their choosing but there is no statutory right of access. These routes are usually marked with signs either made up by the landowner or provided by the local authority such as black waymark discs with white arrows and labelling.

These routes are local arrangements between the landowner and the public often for set periods of times or specified times of day. A permissive path may be closed on a specified calendar day each year. These are precautions to prevent any possible future claim of continuous public access along the path which could result in it becoming designated as a statutory right of way. Some of the more firmly established permissive footpaths and bridleways are shown on the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 maps as below, but due to the fact landowners can close these routes at any time they wish or are one off arrangements for specific groups and not the general public, therefore aren’t shown on any maps at all.

Previously Defra/Natural England provided subsidies to landowners for them to provide permissive routes on their land. This year the scheme came to an end and many permissive routes have now been revoked due to the end of the subsidies. The latest way forward for permissive routes is the government’s proposals for an Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). It would be brilliant if the ‘public goods for public money’ part of this scheme dedicated new Public Rights of Way but it is more likely that this scheme will just replace the subsidies for permissive routes provided by landowners.


92% of the land in England is privately owned and therefore not open for the public to access. If you or your dog stray from a Public Right of Way, Public Highway or public space then you are committing trespass which, at the moment, is a civil offence against the landowner. The government are currently proposing to criminalise trespassing, the current proposals could result in an erosion of people’s rights to access the countryside. The Ramblers are opposing these proposals and have further information on their website.

Private land is often not signed but where landowners have had issues with the public wandering on their land or purposefully trespassing then they often erect signs such as the one below to ensure it’s clear they do not intend to dedicate the land as a public right of way.

Make sure that you know where you can and can’t access before you head out into the countryside so that you can explore without being challenged and can be confident that farmer Joe won’t be chasing you with his shot gun.

public rights of way

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. I do love the way you have framed this specific matter plus it really does present me a lot of fodder for thought. Nonetheless, through everything that I have seen, I really wish when the opinions pack on that people today stay on point and not embark upon a tirade regarding the news du jour. Still, thank you for this exceptional piece and though I do not go along with it in totality, I regard your point of view.


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